The Texas State Park “Gotcha” Fee: Turning $20 a night into $30

One of the minor surprises we experienced at Everglades National Park was that, unlike at the Florida State Parks, the entry fee was not included in the campground fee.  Sure it was only $10 and good for six days, but it was unexpected and could change the cost equation when comparing options down the road.  I suspect part of the thought process is to provide an incentive for Rvers to buy an annual pass, which we probably will at our next National Park stay.

The National Park’s unexpected fee pales in comparison to the Texas State Park fee system, though.  As we discovered at Galveston Island State Park, in addition to the campground fee you also have to pay a $5 entry fee, per person, not per vehicle, and it must be paid for each day.  Our three night stay would cost, in addition to the $60 camping fee ($20 per night), an additional $30 in entry fees.  Thus our stay would average out to $30 a night; not horrible sure, and at least there are not taxes added, but not what we expected.  So of course they offer an annual pass: For $70 you get free entry for you and everyone in your vehicle, and four coupons for a 50% discount on the second night of this and future stays.  Thus they have created a two-part incentive: buy the park pass and go to another Texas State Park during the year.

We did the math and figured that as long as we have one more stay of at least two nights then it will have “paid for itself,” but our nightly average cost in Texas will turn out to be somewhat higher than we expected.  If we do a two-day stay at Seminole Canyon State Park for $20 a night, then without the annual pass we would have spent a total of $150 between Galveston Island and there ($100 camping fees, $50 entry fees).  With the purchase of the annual pass, and using the discount coupons for the second nights, we break even ($80 in camping fees, no entry fee, $70 for the pass), and we will have the ability to go in to any state park in Texas for a day visit for free.

Bottom line: if we had done our research better and recognized this fee structure, we might have opted to stay in private parks rather than state parks on Galveston Island and during our stopping point in route to Big Bend National Park.  Now that we have the pass, we will almost certainly use it at least one more time for a two night stay, and will seek to take advantage of it for day use at other state parks along the way.

12 thoughts on “The Texas State Park “Gotcha” Fee: Turning $20 a night into $30

  1. Canada is even worse than that, especially for our National Parks. The day use fee is person and per day just like the Texas State parks. We are refusing to camp in parks that do this. If you are paying for camping then the price should include the day use fee. We have also passed by some Texas State parks even for the day. Many times we just want to go in and go for a hike and just can’t justify the price of the day use fee. If we know that we will be in that particular state for any length of time then it would be worthwhile to buy the pass. We just bought the America the Beautiful Nat’l Park Pass for the year. We think it is well worth it.

    • Thanks for the heads up about Canada. Since we did not stay in a state park in Alabama or Mississippi, I can’t speak to the policy in those states, but Louisianna was like Florida: camping fee waived/included the day use fee. I wonder how many and which of the remaining states have such policies.

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  4. We are like Kevin and Ruth, Canadian National Parks & Provincial Parks even are getting out of hand on their fees and rates, since many are now handled by private concessionaires. We used to camp over 30 nights a year in them a long time ago, now avoid them totally. Just surprisingly saw that Montana appears to let Montana plated vehicles in their SP’s free of charge – do they not want to encourage tourism dollars to help their resident businesses one wonders?

    Same with fishing licenses both sides of the border, some are like $47 for residents but up to $163 for non-residents – again we look where we will stay based on the best options as non-residents. Non-residents will put less stress on for such short periods versus residents, so again our tourism dollars support those states and provinces that encourage and welcome us with “fair” rates and equality treatment.

    • Helen, I totally agree! It reminds me of when local politicians propose funding some new initiative only with hotel taxes, which predominatnly effect tourists. It is a way they pretend to fund something “for free” while in reality discouraging the very sort of business that might keep the local economy flush.

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